Andy Martino, SNY.tv | Twitter |
CLEVELAND -- Of the many Pete Alonso Moments that defined All-Star week this year, perhaps the most representative was the reverse heel turn that the young slugger managed on Monday night. Facing hometown favorite Carlos Santana in the first round of the home run derby, Alonso was surprised to hear boos in an otherwise jolly event.
He responded by activating his clutch gene to recover from a shaky start, and edge Santana by one home run. Indians fans were not pleased.
Fast forward to about two hours later, when Alonso called for time out during the final round. Instead of quietly gathering himself, he waved his arms to the crowd in a gesture that urged them to cheer louder. They did. In the space of a single evening, he had converted disappointed Clevelanders into Pete Alonso fans.
He also showed us what baseball will look like in its next phase. For several years, veterans and younger players -- and more than a few writers on both sides of the generational divide -- have gone back and forth in tiresome exchanges about etiquette.
When was it okay to flip your bat? Pump your fist? Celebrate on second base after hitting a double? There was no shortage of opinions and Twitter debates, and all of it was rote, predictable and boring.
With the arrival of a group of young players like Alonso, the debate has finally died. This generation understands intuitively what it takes to entertain people their age, and they've brought their own brand of fun into the game. Discussions about bat flips and celebrations are fading away, thank God, and the on-field product is naturally evolving.
After spending considerable time with Alonso this week, I was struck by how well he understands the change that is happening, and how badly he wants to be a part of it.
After the All-Star game ended and Alonso had finally fulfilled all of his seemingly endless media duties, he stood at his locker and gestured around the clubhouse.
"To be in this locker room is an incredible honor," he said, with wide, earnest eyes. "This has been an absolute fantasy come true, and I can't be thankful enough."
I asked him if he saw himself as part of a wave that, along with players like Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Ronald Acuna Jr., Cody Bellinger, Gleyber Torres and others, were ready to take the reins of the game. Alonso nodded immediately and launched into an answer that made clear he'd thought about the topic before.
"Absolutely," he said. "I definitely think there are certain generations in the game of baseball. There's trends in the game, and this wave of players that is coming up that are here and making an impact -- is just awesome. It's not just me. A lot of these guys are high energy guys and exciting players. It's not just fun [for me] to play against and play with guys like that, but it's fun for the fans as well."
That word -- fun -- is what defined Alonso's entire experience in Cleveland. He and his buddy Jeff McNeil beamed as they sat on adjacent platfoms on media day. Jacob deGrom, who is 31 and has done this three times now, arrived with a professional but wearier demeanor, while Alonso and McNeil joked and laughed like the big kids that they are.
In the hallway outside his press conference after winning the derby that night, Alonso first smelled his armpits and made an unselfconscious joke about his body odor. When our interview began, he started wiggling the chain that Daddy Yankee had placed around his neck.
Do you want to talk about the chain, Pete?
When I asked that, he nearly blushed, looking down sheepishly for a moment. Then he recovered with a strong line. "If Daddy Yankee puts a chain around my neck," Alonso said, "I'm gonna wear it."
The reverie continued on Tuesday, when Alonso wore a loud jacket and sizable orange fedora to the red carpet parade. He could have been in swinging London in 1966, walking down Carnaby Street with Brian Jones.
For the rest of the day, Alonso happily spoke to anyone who wanted time with him. Then he made a few crisp plays in the game -- not bad for a guy widely viewed just last year as a designated hitter -- and drove in two runs.
"I feel like I'm living a fantasy," Alonso said.
There will, of course, he harder times. Alonso will slump like everyone else, fall into darker moods, probably learn to manage his accessibility with the media. But as a ballplayer, he is programmed to last. He's not a feast-or-famine slugger, but a hitter-in-full who can sit back on a breaking ball, shorten up with two strikes and use all fields.
As a public figure, Alonso is perfectly equipped for his time. His theatrics are not contrived or designed to make a point about the evolution of the game -- they are merely organic manifestations of his personality, age group, and era.
Now that the country has seen these qualities in Alonso, he joins the group of twentysomethings who will serve as ambassadors of the contemporary game, and define what it looks like for a new generation.